Rosanna Falconer’s Sustainable London Fashion Week Diary

Image credit: Moeez Ali / Outfit credits: Rosanna is wearing an Osklen T-shirt and Piracuru bag with Mother of Pearl trousers and jacket (above and below).

Rosanna Falconer, digital strategist and co-founder of FashMash, reports on the progression of sustainable fashion at London Fashion Week.

London. Of all the fashion capitals, its reputation as a hotbed of exciting young talent pervades. Add to that the success of its established, home-grown super brands and it is unmissable. But sustainable? By definition, the concept of ferrying press and buyers around the world biannually is environmentally questionable, but the industry is yet to find an alternative to the traditional show schedule model. The energy of this season might prove why. A palpable excitement was apparent with brands, particularly emerging ones, aware of the global stage not only for their latest designs but for their ethos and beliefs. 

This season, more than ever, activism was in the air. The British Fashion Council teamed up with BBC Earth and Mother of Pearl with an event to celebrate their long-standing Positive Fashion message. The schedule provided daily highlights of designers developing new, sustainable practices.  Off the schedule, climate change protestors from Extinction Rebellion protested against fast fashion on Sunday. But change is already afoot: from textile innovation to plastic elimination, social and ethical enterprise, London’s pioneering spirit is out in force. 

From the international luxury giant Burberry to Bethany Williams showing her debut collection, the shows and interviews over the week both informed and inspired me. I hope they have the same effect on you.

Day 1 – February 14th

Phoebe English’s passion for sustainability is infectious. She has been described by Sarah Mower, renowned fashion critic and champion of young talent, as “integrity-driven and thorough as they come among the rising young designers concerned about the damage the fashion industry causes”. Her presentation at Morley Gallery divided into two parts: The first room displayed her most recent womenswear collection while the second was a room of 30 marionettes. These mini odes to her 8-year archive showcased the craft of Phoebe’s work so that guests could appreciate the skill up close. I caught up with Phoebe among these hypnotically dancing miniatures where she told me all about the credentials of AW19 – from zero waste pattern cutting to UK-sourced fabrics (as far as possible, sadly there are still limits). Her stance for the industry is clear “It’s important there is a culture of celebration. Even for any small steps towards sustainability. We need to lose this naming and shaming culture, it needs to become embracing.” Best of all, the exhibition closed on last night on February 20th with an intimate walking tour, open to the public and hosted by Phoebe. After the tour, ticket holders could take part in a quilting workshop using waste materials from previous collections, contributing to an ongoing quilt project which will eventually be exhibited. Positive, celebratory, and inclusive, not only of the fashion press and buyers but of the end consumer. What a way to begin the week. 

Day 2 – February 15th

Zilver debuted at London Fashion Week last season to critical acclaim. With an artistic aim to build the “classics of the future”, Pedro Lourenço’s label is founded on codes of transparency in producing, sourcing and marketing, as well as a genderless aesthetic, transcending traditional norms of womenswear and menswear. The clean silhouettes from his ‘Aries’ debut collection now developed in this ‘Taurus’ showcase with covetable, comfortable fabrications and textures. From duvet coats insulated with used plastic bottles to replace traditional animal down (Pedro loved the idea of “wearable bedding”) to butter-soft, luxurious jackets crafted from traceable Icelandic shearling. 

But sustainability aside, they possess that cool, relaxed beauty that renders them instantly covetable as the editors admiring them backstage post-show attested. Between congratulatory hugs from guests, Pedro told me that young brands must remember that design always comes first, “clothes must be sexy and desirable. Just sustainability is not appealing enough. At the end of the day, you cannot be completely sustainable yet. Brands use it as a marketing tool. Honesty is the fairest approach for the consumer.” 

Day 3 – February 16th

The third day and London continued to bask in glorious, unseasonal sunshine… While guests continued to cause traffic jams with queues of chauffeur-driven cars backed up by show venues. The photographers have it sussed – they hop on the tubes between shows and arrive on time and with a clear, clean air conscious to boot!

Today’s highlight is a party with a purpose. The British Fashion Council’s Positive Fashion message reached its zenith at Spencer House with a party co-hosted by their CEO Caroline Rush and Mother of Pearl creative director Amy Powney. The mainstays of any good fashion party remained (glamorous guests and tiny, delectable canapés) but a fresh, exciting energy pervaded.

Amy Powney, Dame Anna Wintour, Caroline Rush CBE and Liz Bonnin, and Rosanna Falconer at the BFC x BBC x Mother of Pearl event. Image credits: Darren Gerrish

Liz Bonnin, science and natural history presenter, welcomed the room then introduced rousing speeches from Caroline and Jackie Lee-Joe (CMO of BBC Studios), before final heartfelt words of experience from Amy. These words, as well as the premiere of the BBC Earth’s short film on the state of the industry, had guests sharing ideas, provoking discussion and celebrating the progress of fashion week. Caroline told me that now more than ever the Positive Fashion message needs to be “kept it at the top of everyone’s agenda to drive change.” Later in the evening, Niomi Smart, content creator and best-selling author, told me how she had noticed a marked change in the emphasis on sustainability, “Designers, press and influencers have always been aware but this time they are speaking out about it, and wanting to make that step forward.”

Day 4 – February 17th

This sentiment of positive change is one championed by Burberry, particularly since last year’s launch of its new responsibility agenda, ‘Creating Tomorrow’s Heritage’. In fact, according to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, it was the leading luxury brand in the space last year. Over and above this accolade, the brand’s show has long been the international highlight of the schedule, ever since their return from Milan ten years ago. Ricardo Tisci’s second collection at the helm took place in two contrasting show environments, “I have been thinking a lot about England as a country of contrasts, from the structured to the rebellious and free, and I wanted to celebrate how these elements coexist.” Long may London be home to a brand that champions the best of British, and drives change in the industry. 

London creatives will tell you that they thrive in the capital thanks to its melting pot of cultures, styles and tastes. The joy of LFW is that same: it lies in its inspiring variety of experience. One moment, it is a catwalk show of international scale, the next it might be a new talent presenting at the back of a Soho record store (case in point Zilver) or an experiential piece of theatre (more of which later, Mother of Pearl). 

Osman Yousefzada is one such London creative who has built a loyal clientele of international women of influence – from architects to artists. These are successful women who delight in his unique, one-of-kind, beautifully crafted designs. Set in his new townhouse on Percy Street of “fashion, art and culture” (just the setting I can imagine his elegant clientele visiting), the presentation featured darkly romantic contrasts in texture, splashes of fuchsia and vermillion colour and, most notably, a series of vegan leather dresses. Again, the show had two halves: a static presentation downstairs culminating in a vignette of the models at afternoon tea, then upstairs to see the collection seated and up close. Chatting to the designer between the two showcases, he told me he aims to “close the loop. It’s not about ending consumption but re-processing the clothes back into the system, recycling yarns.” Importantly, he highlighted to me that his vegan leather is vegetable-derived which is chrome free and a chemical free process, “I believe we need to consume responsibly; petrochemical-based vegan leather products take much longer to biodegrade, sometimes up to 500 years. Natural products, however, when sustainably harnessed and treated in an eco-manner, take much shorter cycles to biodegrade.” He also told me he is on a mission to eliminate plastic packaging in the company. Osman is a man with vision, both aesthetic and ecological. I’m not surprised his international client base come to his townhouse in droves.

DAY 5 – February 18th

If Amy Powney’s brilliant speech on Saturday intrigued and excited me for her forthcoming presentation then nothing quite prepared me for the sheer joy that was to come. Set in the bejewelled, gold-mosaicked Fitzrovia Chapel (the kind of hidden gem that LFW so often finds you), Mother of Pearl set about the first fully circular show of LFW. 

Everything was rented to minimise waste. After marvelling over the glistening chapel ceilings, blogger Kelly Eastwood, Niomi Smart and I turned our attention to the collection. First evident were the statuesque models at the chapel altar: cool, sophisticated and outfitted in the laid-back, delicious glamour for which the brand has become known. The polka dots juxtaposed next to florals on high-waisted trousers and draped dresses had a fabulous muse of 1980s LA: Vivian Ward of Pretty Woman. They hovered above over 300,000 pearl balls. Yes, fashion week’s first ball pit! We were first to jump in and oh my, the endorphins and ear-to-ear smiles. Delightful! But, just like the joyful clothes of the brand, there is meaning: the pearls represent the micro plastics discarded into the ocean when synthetic fibres are washed (MOP only use natural fibres), damaging and killing marine life. Spreading the joy long-term, 10% of all sales this month go directly to cleaning up our oceans. Once I had managed to stop laughing, jumping and playing, I spoke to Amy. Her Mother of Pearl x BBC Earth’s Capsule will launch exclusively this June on “It is all organic, all fair-trade, dyed using the lowest chemicals possible and printed all under the same certification. It is 100% peace silk which is the most sustainable fabric if done properly. And they still hopefully look like you want to go out in them,” she added, with a smile.

Image credit: James Mason

Day 6 – February 19th

London is a city that knows how to finish in style, complete with a royal seal of approval. Tuesday’s highlights began with the enchanted garden of recent British Fashion Award winner Richard Quinn. His Peckham studio is his laboratory of print innovation that he opens up to students and fellow designers. Harnessing the most advanced printing technology available, the studio encourages collaboration and localisation in the industry, causes at the heart of a sustainable future. AW19 was a triumph of exaggerated florals and shapes.

Last year, Quinn won the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design, presented by Her Majesty The Queen (a LFW moment that surely trumps them all). Bethany Williams was awarded this year’s award, in recognition of her socially and environmentally enterprising approach. This season’s collection was created in collaboration with women’s shelter Adelaide House, a safe space for women escaping homelessness and domestic violence in Liverpool. But there’s so much more: Bethany is a force of nature, for example producing the entire collection from recycled and organic materials, like waste product from Liverpool’s Echo Newspaper (thin strips of paper are coated and then sewn). Or take her fabrics created with the Italian San Patrignano community, mixing book waste and pre-production mill waste. To list the collection’s ethical attributes (and these are just a few!) should not overshadow the collection, a jolt to the senses at the end of LFW when the eye can begin to tire. Chubby knitwear, shimmering woven fabrics and bold, primary colour combinations.

She told the Guardian last year “I love taking something that is disregarded and making it into something beautiful with my hands. I didn’t feel that there was a brand that was young and vibrant with cool clothing but also one that was organic or recycled and was supporting people.” From the show casting (she worked with TITH to cast homeless models and pay them the market rates) to the end result (20% of collection profits will go back to Adelaide House), she has every base covered in an awe-inspiring 360 ° approach. The Duchess of Cornwall watched on approvingly before presenting her with the award. If this is the new generation of fashion week we are in safe, super-powered hands.

Photo credit: Kirstin Sinclair / Mother of Pearl dress and V by Townsley bag

Discover some of Rosanna’s favourite sustainable and brands here